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Schmeelk: Nash Loss Hurts, But Doesn’t Kill Knicks’ Chance At Title Contention

Steve Nash (credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Steve Nash (credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
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I watched Twitter with great interest yesterday as Knicks fans debated whether or not they should trade Iman Shumpert for Steve Nash. I understood their hesitance. In just his first season, Shumpert proved himself as a top perimeter defender with the skills to become a good offensive player. There’s a legitimate chance he could be an All-Star. Unfortunately, in this world you have to give something to get something, and Steve Nash was worth the cost.

When evaluating a trade like this I try to fold all the potential pros and cons into a simply bottom-line question. Did the Knicks have a better chance of winning a title in 2012 with Steve Nash or Iman Shumpert?  It’s impossible to argue that it’s Shumpert. He is coming off a torn ACL and his return date and effectiveness is a real question. The Knicks are still a win-now team, and for 2012 and probably 2013 they would have had a much better chance with Nash than without him.

Steve Nash is still a top point guard, and was second only to Rajon Rondo in assists per game. He is still a difference-maker and would have gotten the most out of Amar’e Stoudemire. But what he could do on the court in terms of his numbers was only part of his value. Nash would have allowed the Knicks to completely transform their offense around a top point guard. They can’t win in the playoffs playing iso-ball with Carmelo Anthony. Playing with Nash the right way could have been a big part of transforming Carmelo into a winning player. Those types of intangibles are invaluable and exactly what the team was lacking last year as they headed into the playoffs.

It was the same reason that Jason Kidd would be valuable. He could have gotten into Carmelo Anthony’s head and taught him what it takes to win on this level. Just like Nash, he could have tutored Jeremy Lin and taught him the ins and outs of being a point guard in the NBA. With Kidd on the verge of returning to Dallas that also appears to be a failed pursuit.

Therefore, the Knicks will have to look to Raymond Felton for help. Felton would be fine on the court with his toughness, experience and ability to run the pick-and-roll with Amar’e Stoudemire. Felton is still in the prime of his career, however, and will have a lot more interest in taking playing time away from Jeremy Lin than mentoring him.

Now that the Knicks have lost out on their top free agent, they will have to rely largely on internal improvement and progress to make that next step in becoming a championship-contending team. It will come down to whether Jeremy Lin can continue to improve, whether Amar’e Stoudemire can get healthy and whether Carmelo Anthony watched LeBron James and really understands what it means to play championship basketball.

SCHMEELK’S SNIPPETS

- The throwaway line that “Steve Nash used the Knicks” has no legs. What did he use them for exactly? He got less money than he would have gotten from Toronto. The Lakers had interest in trading for Nash regardless of the Knicks’ attempts. The Suns were initially reluctant to move Nash to a conference rival. and understandably so. Eventually, they did right by Steve Nash and moved him to the destination that he wanted to end up at. The Knicks weren’t used. They were simply an option that Nash was considering until the Suns decided to trade him to Los Angeles.

- I mock, but I also feel a little bad for the Raptors losing out on Steve Nash. But they are getting what they deserve, getting stuck with Landry Fields for three years at $20 million. They took a chance and it blew up in their faces. That is right there with some of the worst contracts in the NBA.

- I can’t stress this enough to nervous Knicks fans: The Knicks will match ANY AND ALL offers for Jeremy Lin. They don’t care about the luxury tax in three years. Jeremy Lin is the future and isn’t going anywhere.

- If the Knicks can figure out a way to sign and trade for Raymond Felton instead of using their mini mid-level on him, they can use that exception on Marcus Camby instead. They might even end up having their full mid-level available if they decide not to resign Steve Novak or JR Smith. I think both will be back.

- The Lakers are going to be very good next year with Steve Nash transforming that offense. Pau Gasol just became a much better player and Kobe Bryant will have a lot of pressure taken off his aging body. I still think it’s L.A. that winds up with Dwight Howard, though it will be tougher now with their draft picks heading to Phoenix.

I’ll continue to provide coverage of NBA free agency on Twitter, where you can follow me here

With Nash off the board, what should the Knicks’ plan be for the rest of the offseason? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…